MAMAKATING – About a dozen speakers came out last Wednesday evening, March 17, for the public hearing on the development project known as 'Seven Peaks.' Most of the participants spoke out about concerns over the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the 653-acre, 49 unit, luxury community and resort, which, if built, would straddle the ridge just south of Wurtsboro and Bloomingburg. There were, however, a few speakers who came out to express support for the project, arguing that its construction would be boon to local jobs and would significantly supplement the town's currently modest tax roll.
The evening's first order of business was a PowerPoint presentation by Shalom Lamm, principal of Black Creek Holdings, LLC, the company that intends to develop the land. In his presentation, Lamm stated that the project, despite its location in what many feel is an environmentally sensitive area, would do little to impact the rare flora and fauna on the property. Lamm also stressed the fact that the project's scope was much narrower than that which could be built on the site.
"Our goal was to create a low-density, legacy second-home enclave," Lamm said.
Several months ago, Black Creek had apparently ruffled feathers at the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) when the "conservation alternative" the company submitted to the state agency depicted as many as 120 homes being built at the site. Under state environmental law, companies that develop in environmentally sensitive areas are often required to submit one or more design alternatives that are similar in scope to the plan being proposed. During his presentation, Lamm appeared to be stressing that, if Black Creek so desired, the company's plans could be much more impactful than what it is currently proposing.
"The whole idea of doing only 49 homes on such a very large piece of land is to be sure that we're sensitive to the pristine environment in concert with the beauty and character that is the Town of Mamakating," Lamm said.
Lamm's presentation also highlighted what the project could mean for the town when it comes to the new taxes the community would generate. The 49 homes alone, he said, would generate approximately $2.7 million dollars in taxes annually, with the luxury hotel producing another $215,000 annually (currently the property generates approximately $31,000 in local taxes annually). He also stressed that, because the homes would be second homes for the people living in the community, the residents would require little in the way of town, county, and school services, which would mean that the vast majority of the taxes collected would benefit the surrounding community. He also said that having new residents with deep pockets should help boost local businesses.
Despite Lamm's claims regarding the benefits the Town of Mamakating would receive, the majority of the speakers who followed the presentation expressed skepticism regarding the DEIS, stating simply that the review hasn't been thorough enough. Keith LaBudde, who spoke on behalf of the Shawangunk Ridge Coalition — a group of organizations working to protect the ridge — said that the project would be more impactful than Black Creek claims.
"In the case of the 'Seven Peaks' proposal, numerous resources of statewide significance will be put at risk due to the impacts associated with this development," LaBudde said.
LaBudde said that, because the Shawangunk Ridge is one of the highest priority areas in the northeast when it comes to the maintenance of biodiversity, a rigid review should be required.
"The DEIS falls short of this requirement," LaBudde said.
LaBudde went on to say that his organization supports the position taken by the DEC, that the DEIS provides insufficient detail as to the impacts the development would create.
Former Mamakating Town Supervisor Fred Harding also spoke about concerns for the water the development would need. He said that the test wells dug at the site may be insufficient when it comes to the water-flow per minute necessary for residential homes.
"I inherited a water problem when I became supervisor," Harding said, apparently in reference to the Yukiguni Maitake (YM) mushroom-growing facility that has caused so much controversy in the town.
Harding said that the 'Seven Peaks' project, though not anywhere near the scope of the YM project, does raise a number of questions. Citing a report commissioned by the Basha Kill Area Association (BKAA), Harding said that the DEIS may not go far enough when it comes examining water availability.
"Forty percent of the homeowners are likely to have less than two gallons per minute," Harding said. The [NY State Department of Health] considers less than two-gallons per minute inadequate for domestic water supply."
Other speakers expressed concerns about everything from storm-water and sewage runoff, to concerns about the destruction of natural corridors through which animals migrate.
The New York/New Jersey Trail conference also expressed concern that the development would impact hiking trails in the area and that it could bisect the Long Path, meaning that hikers would be forced to go around the development when traveling from the Appalachian Trail to Minnewaska State Park Preserve. The organization suggested that a public trail on the property be incorporated into already existing trails.
There is also a concern that the current DEIS does not address the impacts that will be created if the 125-room luxury hotel is built, and that there could be a third phase to the development that Black Creek hasn't discussed at all. Several of the speakers raised the issue of "segmentation," a term that describes a method developers sometimes employ which breaks a project down into smaller, more palatable chunks, thereby obscuring the impact the overall project will have.
Paula Medley, president of the BKAA, summed up the concerns expressed by the speakers, calling on the planning board to require an addendum, or supplement, to the DEIS, and that this process should include another public hearing.
"You have the authority to do so, and we hope you have the will to do so," Medley said.
It remains unclear as to how the Town of Mamakating Planning Board will respond to Medley's request. Members of the public have until March 27 to submit written comments.